Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go

By Patrick Ness

Ages 15-18

In thirty days Todd Hewett will be a man. On that day—his thirteenth birthday—there will be no more boys in Prentisstown. In fact, there will be no more children because Todd Hewett was the last boy born, and there are no women or girls left alive. Despite the school being shut down and history deemed irrelevant, everyone in Prentisstown knows the story of how when the settlers came to this new planet they encountered the alien inhabitants who infected them with a germ that killed all the women. But the germ that killed the women had a very different affect upon the men: it caused them to be able to hear one another’s thoughts…all their thoughts. There is nothing private, nothing secret, just constant, invasive Noise.

Then Todd encounters a hole in the Noise—a place where there is nothing, just silence. This discovery will put him in more danger than he has ever experienced in his life. Todd flees Prentisstown with his loyal talking dog, Manchee, as well as an unexpected companion he meets on his journey. The more distance he puts between himself and Prentisstown, the more he discovers he has been lied to his whole life about the history and nature of his community. He will soon discover the truth about the nature of power and what it means to be a man.

Full of violence and heartbreak, The Knife of Never Letting Go will grab hold of you and take you on a painful, emotional, amazing journey of a boy trying to navigate his way to adulthood. Todd, unsure of himself and unsure of his place in the world, is denied a proper man-making ceremony. So, is he a man? How does he determine who his friends are? How can he know who he is when everyone else’s thoughts are constantly seeping into his brain? And what does a person do when he has no place left to run?

Full of breathtaking action, this is a bildungsroman like we’ve never seen before, and the cliffhanger ending will leave the reader trembling with anticipation for the sequel.

Discussion points: gender roles, omnipresence of technology, coming-of-age

Caveats: violence, bad language, sexual references, the villain is a pastor/priest, cruelty to animals

Questions to get you started:
    1. Patrick Ness said of The Knife of Never Letting Go, “Information is absolutely everywhere today—texts and e-mails and messaging—so much it feels like you can’t get away from it. I began to wonder what it would be like to be in a town where you really couldn’t get away.” Is this true for you? Do you feel like all the information, social networking, and technological communication options are Noise?

    2. What does it mean that men are Noisy and women are silent? Why do you think Ness chose these roles for the genders? How would you feel if someone could hear everything you though, but you couldn’t hear anything they thought. How would you respond?

    3. Todd struggles with what it means to be a man? What do you think this book says about a person’s journey to adulthood? Given this, do you think Todd is a man at the end of this book or not?

    4. This community is a group of settlers from a planet presumed to be Earth. Does the fact the characters come from our culture (in the future, of course) add or detract from the believability of the story? Would it have been better if Ness had made the setting an undefined fantasy setting? Or does the connection to Earth help us understand their plight better?

If you liked this book you might enjoy: Feed by M.T. Anderson, Wine of the Dreamers by John D. McDonald, Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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